Ben-Gurion University scientists have found new substances that will reportedly
make it possible to extend the lives of patients with the progressive and fatal
neurological disorder amytrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS, or Lou Gehrig’s
disease). The announcement was made on the 30th day after the passing of Dov
Lautman, the dedicated industrialist and education promoter who died of
Prof. Esther Priel, director of the School of Medical Laboratory
Sciences at the university in Beersheba discovered the substances, which
lengthen the life of the cells that decline and die due to ALS. The research was
funded by the Israel ALS Research Association (ISRA.L.S.), of which Lautman was
a major donor.
Most victims die within three years of diagnosis, but
some, including Lautman and Prof. Stephen Hawking, who was diagnosed in his 20s
and is still alive in his 70s, survive longer.
Priel, in cooperation with
Dr. Aviv Gazit (formerly of the Hebrew University) and Prof. Shimon Slavin (also
formerly of HU and currently head of the Genetic Therapy Institute in Tel Aviv)
created new chemical substances that can increase the amount of telomerase, the
protein that lengthens the life of cells by extending the telomeres (ends) of
the chromosomes. They did this by working on mice, whose telomeres were extended
in a controlled way in all of the rodents’ organs, including the brain. The team
then succeeded in doing the same in human cells.
Ordinarily, this protein
is not active in most body cells. As a result, the cells age and eventually
Research has shown that using genetic engineering in mice, one can
extend the lives of telomeres by some 35 percent and strengthen them against
infections and failure of bodily systems including those of the
One of the important discoveries by Priel and her colleagues was
the possibility to supervise telomerase, as the high expression of the protein
can lead to cancer. In the mice research, it was found that increasing the
expression of telomerase in the brain and spinal cord causes the slowing of ALS
and a longer life expectancy in the affected mice.
The discovery caused
waves of interest among researchers and was published in EMBO Molecular
Medicine, among other journals. BGU’s research and development arm, B.G.Negev,
signed a deal for development and licensing of the product with a private US
investment fund that provided over $1 million for the next two years to expand
“This is a scientific breakthrough as these substances have
great potential not only in coping with the degeneration of the nervous system
but with other disorders connected to aging,” said Priel.